Politics, the church and speaking about what actually concerns people

They say we get the leaders we deserve. I’m not sure I ever quite believed it, but I dread to think what it says about us as a nation given where we are currently at. Only yesterday, I was writing about a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was raising taxes and passing financial laws to which he and his non-dom wife were not subject. All the talk of painful increases, being limited in what they could do about the cost of living crisis and the ‘difficult decisions’ they had to take were all made by somebody who would not actually be subject to them themselves.

That, it appears, has been superseded by revelations (of a sort) that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer broke lock down rules. I say ‘of a sort’ because, of course, it has been well known for quite some time that is precisely what they did. But playing their usual game of bluff, deny and hope to bury both men continued to insist they had not broken the rules.

When it became apparent they had been at gatherings which broke their own rules, they launched an investigation. Whilst that first investigation was underway, they refused to admit whether they were at any gatherings and instead kept insisting we must ‘wait for the report’ before they could affirm whether they had broken their own stipulations. When it became apparent that investigation was likely to find against them, they threw it over to the police. They insisted the original investigation ought not to say anything that might prejudice their own investigations. When the police investigations began, the PM and Chancellor continued to deny matters. When asked outright whether they were at any gatherings or broke any rules, they insisted they were not and had not. Now, the police have issued fines against them making Boris Johnson the first prime minister found to have committed a criminal offence in office.

But long gone are the days when incompetence meant you resigned from post. And gone are the days when breaches of the ministerial code – matters of actual wrongdoing – might cause you to stand down either. And seemingly, we are now some steps further on still. Apparently, even breaking the law and being found guilty of criminal offences will not do for you either. And not just any crime, but breaking a specific point of law that you and your government introduced within your current tenure in office. Still, it seems, Boris Johnson sees no reason to go.

Indeed, his defence is risible:

“I understand the anger that many will feel — that I myself fell short when it came to observing the very rules which the government I lead had introduced to protect the public,” Johnson told the BBC in an interview from Chequers.

“I accept in all sincerity that people had the right to expect better and now I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

Partygate: Boris Johnson apologises after lockdown party fine, The Times, Tuesday 12 April 2022

His position is, essentially, that everyone rightly expected better of him – that is to say, everyone expected the Prime Minister who created the law to actually keep the very law he had made – and, because of his failure to do so, he feels even more strongly that it is right to continue in his job. In no other job would you get away with this utter bilge. At this stage, it is increasingly difficult to know what lie the Prime Minister might tell and, more worryingly still, what laws he might break that would lead him to even consider standing down.

But not only does the Prime Minister seem to believe he can style this out, his own party largely seem to be of the same view. Which leads us to ask, how can they be so sure? You would imagine, at almost any other point in post-war British politics, this would very much spell the end of a political career. But even this does not seem to be doing it and it bears asking why. The answer, of course, is the Labour Party.

Again, at any other point in post-war British outside the last 5 years, nobody would even imagine a Prime Minister could survive such accusations. But when you are faced with a party opposite that was, until quite recently, led by IRA-sympathising, Iran-supporting incompetents who refused to honour a vote significantly won by their heartlands and unleashed an obsession with Middle East and a deeply unpleasant anti-Semitic strain of ID-politics, complete with an endless stream of people who couldn’t define the term ‘woman’, it is hardly surprising that even a criminal leading the country might be deemed electorally preferable. He might well be a liar, but if one party insists they won’t do what you voted for and another says they will, even led by a liar whom you can’t trust, you may as well take your chances on the one who at least says they’ll do what you asked them to rather than the ones who honestly tell you they won’t.

Whilst Keir Starmer has gone some way to seeking to rectify the antisemitism problem, it seems he still can’t muster up a definition to describe half the population of the country. I suspect he still hasn’t done enough to convince Labour’s old heartlands – let alone the average voter they still need to attract to win an election – that the party might be trusted not to obsess over these sort of minority ID issues. The fact that Jewish Labour members were handing in their membership cards in their droves, and little has wooed many back, and female members of the opposition were told not to turn up to their own party conference because their safety could not (or, would not) be guaranteed makes its own point on these issues. Much as one cannot trust Boris Johnson, the fear if you are a woman, a Jew or someone who knows and loves anyone who is either of these is that Labour might not be so easily trusted either. And when faced with the prospect of a Prime Minister who might setup a meeting when he tells everyone else not to meet or one who might lean towards erasure of your person, workplace and social safeguards and means of addressing known inequalities that you, or those you love, face, the resignation of this Prime Minister doesn’t necessarily resolve a whole lot for you.

Which is why I’m not entirely sure we do get the politicians we deserve. When our choice is essentially between a liar who indulges in serious cronyism, who breaks laws he creates and whose cabinet does not see fit to be bound by any of the decisions they make or a party full of those who will make laws impacting large swathes of the population and who seem incapable of answering questions that my Primary School children have no problem answering, we can only be left wondering what we have possibly done to deserve that. If you are a person of truth and justice who believes that the law should apply equally to those who make it, it is hard to see how you can vote Tory. If you are a person who believes in equality for all regardless of their immutable characteristics, it is hard to see how one can yet vote Labour. To quote one former Labour leadership candidate whose own run at the top job went awry because they got embroiled in these things when they should have taken their own advice, ‘most people just want a working bus service’.

The fact is that Labour should be cashing in big-time on the low-ebb that the Tories find themselves in. The current government are an absolute shambles. But the narrative that they are the nasty party doesn’t hold so much water when your own party will not stand up for over half its own population. The leaders in government may break their own laws but when the other party are obsessed with enacting laws or issuing statements that would lead to erasure and serious damage against you, it doesn’t seem like much of an alternative. As Will Lloyd correctly writes here:

Millions of pounds a year in legal bills from anti-Semitism lawsuits are crippling the party. It continues to fry in the fat of its own confusion over women’s rights. And the sense that it is aloofly ruled by moral invigilators, high on sanctimony and traumatised by marginalia, hasn’t gone away.

I long for a strong Labour movement. I long for a party that could credibly defeat those who show no regard for the law in office. I long for a Labour movement that might take power from a party of vested interests and actually serve the majority of the country. But at the minute, it seems to believe that Oldham is in the Middle East and loads of women don’t have cervixes; not only thinks these things, but believes they are matters on which to major for the country.

When you’re struggling to heat your home and feed your kids, when you can’t get to work without taking 3 buses and you get charged 10% of your weekly allowance to get to your interview, these are not the issues that matter. Boris may have no interest in doing anything meaningful for people in communities like mine, what chance have they got when Labour don’t seem to show much interest in doing so either? Most people want a regular job, means to get to it (and around anywhere else) that don’t take forever or cost the earth and a decent education for their kids. They want the ability to have their basic needs met – food, heat, shelter, clothing – through an adequate paying job with enough leftover to turn a meagre existence into a decent life where they can afford a few of the things that make life seem worth living. None of that is really all that much to ask. And yet nobody seems to actually talk about these things very much these days. One party has no clue, and barely pretend to, while the other obsesses about anything but the things people actually want addressing.

If there is a lesson to the church in all of this, it is not that we get the leaders we deserve. I don’t think anybody has the politicians they deserve, they just happen to be the ones we have got. I think it is that the church, if it is not going to be treated as the complete irrelevance with which many in my community treat politics, must actually speak about the things that people care about.

It is no good our bemoaning that people aren’t interested in what we want to talk about. We have to actually speak about what matters to the people we are speaking to. The failure of modern British politics is that it tens to speak about what it wants to discuss, not what most people actually care about themselves. Our insisting that the world doesn’t seem that interested in the incarnation anymore, or nobody seems to want to have a discussion starting with whether Jesus was mad, bad or God, is akin as good as Labour cacking on about trans toilets and the definition of women in Oldham when all anybody wants to know is whether they will make the buses affordable and whether our area might get on the tram network anytime soon.

We can bemoan the terrible ‘other lot’ who draw people in with their false promises if we want. We can differentiate ourselves from other religious groups as having the ‘full gospel’ all we like. But if we do not speak to the actual issues anybody cares about, it will sound no different than a debate about whether the criminal Prime Minister would be better replaced with someone who cannot explain the problem with the term ‘woman adult human female’ but knows it should not be said. For most people, as Morrissey put it, ‘it says nothing to me about my life’. And it is all too easy for the church to end up in the same boat.